Air & Water Show thrills 1.7M spectators

August 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The official spectator count for the 53rd annual Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend was 1.7 million. After Saturday's Mother Nature-induced near wash-out, however, it's possible that most of those spectators came out for the second day of the show Sunday.

From the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs Parachute Team to the grand finale featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the massive crowds at North Avenue Beach seemed to loved it all.

"He was asleep. So when the planes came out, he woke up," said spectator Lana Harris.

"I love it. I come here every year. You couldn't ask for a more beautiful day," said spectator Mike Garvin.

"It's fantastic. It's my first time ever at an air show and my first time on the lake, too. I'm having a good time," said spectator Cameron Cortez.

Kicking off the show was "All My Children" actor Walt Willey parachuting from 13,500 feet with the U.S. Army's Golden Knights. He was supposed to go Saturday, but the bad weather pushed it back. He says he wasn't nervous at all.

"I'm sitting there at 13,000 feet getting ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and we're laughing and joking thinking about anything else in the world. They know how to make you comfortable. They're super pros. I'd do it tomorrow. I'd do it every day. It was that great of an experience," Willey said.

The Golden Knights also awarded a special baton to this year's Hometown Hero firefighter/paramedic Jason Durbin. Back in 2009, Durbin was off-duty when he ran into a burning building in Lincoln Park, rushed up 28 flights of stairs and rescued a woman trapped in her apartment. In addition to the baton, Durbin got to fly in one of the Thunderbird's F16s on Thursday.

"It was an ultimate high. I don't even know how to describe it -- you could feel the power and the freedom to fly around like that. It was great," Durbin said.

Acts like the Thunderbirds, with their finely tuned precision, and the Oracle Team's Sean D. Tucker, continually challenging the limits of physics and sanity, are the reason people keep coming back.

This is wonderful. This is America's best technology on display. Every time I see these planes I get goose bumps. It's just awe-inspiring," said spectator Joe Krauss Sr.

If you couldn't make it out to the Chicago Air & Water Show, or want to see it again, you can see all the highlights here on ABC7. "Chicago's Top Guns: A Wet and Wild Weekend" airs at 10:35 p.m. Sunday. It's hosted by Jerry Taft and Tracy Butler.

The show will also be available on demand at

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